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THE

GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE.

Marcu 1898.

AN IMPOSTOR. By KATHARINE WYLDE.

Un che dira nell’ Inferno a’ malzati: ‘To vidi la speranza de’ beati.’

I,

HE Rev. Edwin Blake, curate of St. Chad’s Without, in Dark- needle Street, sat alone in the vestry after the old-fashioned evening service ; the meagre collection still on the silver dish before him, and the massive Communion plate, which was the one glory of the forgotten city church, not yet put away in its singularly unsafe resting-place. He was an elderly, gentle-faced, ineffectual man, long a widower, and now in mourning for his only son. He was very tired and very sad, and while with the easy patience of low Spirits he awaited the verger’s return from some trivial errand, he was reflecting on the loss of his boy, on the dulness of his sermon, on the thinness of the congregation, and on the small amount of good accomplishing in that dreary parish by himself and his apathetic vicar.

The door opened; someone looked in; stealthily perhaps, diffidently it seemed to Mr. Blake. He recognised the only one of the few communicants who had interested him ; a youth, fragile and un-English looking, with a smooth dark face, and strange colour- less bright eyes under pencilled eyebrows.

“Come in!” said the curate, rousing himself; “you wish to speak to me?”

VOL. CCLXXXIV. NO. 2007. Q

210 The Gentleman's Magazine.

My name is Stephen Turner,” said the lad, advancing modestly. *T wanted to thank you, sir, for your sermon, and to ask for a short explanation of a point which puzzled me.”

“Sit down, sit down,” said the curate with a warm glow of gratitude ; for when had he ever been thanked for a sermon before ?

The young man was shabbily dressed, and had no pretension to be a gentleman ; he proved, however, a person of considerable, if irregular education, and held his own without difficulty in the theological conversation which followed. Mr. Blake thought him already a “believer,” and loved him at first sight; even as his Master had loved the young man who was not far from the kingdom of God.

Stephen Turner went out from his presence a little contemptuous, and highly amused at his own success in a ré/e he had never attempted before ; a little touched, however, by the gentle old man, and conscious of unwonted disgust at himself and his manner of life and modes of maintenance.

Some men are born to honour ; some to dishonour. As the old parson’s son, Stephen Turner might have taken University honours (for his parts were excellent), have entered the Church, risen to bishoprics, died in the odour of sanctity. But he was born to dis- honour. His father was unknown, his mother had deserted him. He had brought himself up somehow in a society of low actors, small artists, swindlers, card-sharpers, gamblers, vagabonds, bohemians, unclassed and untied persons of both sexes, gencrally witty and full of resource against starvation, who often wore good clothes and occasionally rode in carriages, but who were not honest, and who defied all laws of God and man. Stephen Turner never thought of himself but as one belonging to a very low stratum of society, a pariah, a mongrel, who had no duties and no responsibilities, against whom all gates were shut, and who had his hand against everyone of the world’s legitimate citizens.

Nevertheless, the old curate, who had never been thanked for a sermon before, fell in love with him, and even thought him a Christian. And Sunday after Sunday, when he administered the old-fashioned Evening Communion, he looked out for the dear young inquirer, and grieved and grieved that he had found him not again. And ke did not connect the lad with the sacrilegious crime which had shocked everybody a few days after the young stranger’s visit to the vestry.

For one morning, when the verger was dreamily dusting the pews, somecne had got into the church, had nearly killed the help-

An Impostor. 211

less old man, had forced the locks, and possessed himself of the Communion plate, and had got away unseen.

The newspapers were noisy about the crime, for the plate at St. Chad’s was historical, and besides it was the dull season for journalism. The careless vicar, and the stupid curate, and the half- dead verger were all scolded at unmercifully ; and great search was made for the thief, the blasphemer of holy things, the would-be murderer. He was generally supposed to be a man named Elliott, lately called in to repair the pulpit, who had ruined his own character first by insolence and irreverent behaviour, then by running away in: a panic the day after the theft of the plate.

II.

A few months later, a shabby young Englishman, who had been wandering round Italy in a slightly mysterious manner, appeared like a meteor at Monte Carlo, and made a sensation by an extra- ordinary run of luck. He left after three days as silently as he had come; but with means now in his pocket more than some men collect by the toil of years. The first thing he did was to visit an English tailor at Nice, and transform his appearance into that of a gentleman—no very difficult task, for Nature had given him a refined countenance, and he was a clever imitator of manners.

Then he returned to Castellammare, whence he had come; and took a room at the Pension Schwartz. Whether Castellammare is the loveliest spot on that loveliest coast may be questioned ; it has not the romance of Ravello, the faded splendour of Amalfi, the jewelled sea of that island-paradise, Capri. Nevertheless, it has its attractions ; and one of these is undoubtedly the Pension Schwartz, standing there in the middle of its vineyards, with its pink walls and its terraces, and its huge rooms and mysterious passages, and little outside stair which gives direct ingress to the dining-room. A family named Braham was staying at the Pension Schwartz: people of: means though not of birth ; with them was their cousin and nursery governess, Edith Gardiner, a quiet ladylike girl of four-and-twenty. The shabby young Englishman had made acquaintance with these people in a Rubattino steamer, by interpreting for them one day when they had got into some difficulty about their cabins or their luggage.

The young man—Fleming he called himself, Stephen Fleming—

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212 The Gentleman's Magazine.

had no sooner arrived at the Pension Schwartz than he spied Miss Gardiner and little Janey Braham watching the sunset from the upper terrace, and he went out to them at once.

“How much nicer you look !” said Janey, holding his hand, for she had made great friends with him ; “had you lost your luggage when we saw you before?”

“Hush, Janey, hush,” said Miss Gardiner, with the more vehemence that she herself had been silently making the same comment. Stephen Fleming smiled, reading her thoughts. He lingered beside them till the bell had rung for dinner; Janey playing with her doll, and not attending much to the low-toned talk between her governess and this chance acquaintance who had suddenly become a gentleman.

My father died at Monte Carlo,” Edith Gardiner was saying. “* It broke my mother’s heart.”

Really? Hearts are breakable then? And what happened afterwards?”

She died herself.”

And you?”

“‘ I was left alone in the world ; but you see I had friends. I have never wanted a home.”

Friends—a home—a dead father and mother,” commented Stephen, bitterly ; “is that what you call being alone in the world ? If you knew the lives some poor devils live you would not be so hard on them.”

AmI hard? Have I blamed anyone?”

“You blamed me when I said I had been gambling. You ‘blamed me when I said I was a wanderer. As if anyone would wander who was not cursed !”

The child had gone in and the governess was picking up the dolls and the books and preparing to go away herself. ‘“ Don’t say ‘you have no friends,” she murmured, not looking athim. “Iam sure you have made—some.”

She vanished, and Stephen remained on the terrace, sitting on the low wall and shading his eyes, though the sunlight had gone. No breeze stirred the vine tendrils or the tufts of Banksia roses ; or fluttered the feathers of the pigeons love-making at his feet, with soft cooings and quick retreatings and pursuings, raised crests and gleamings of outstretched throats like dancers in some minuet of Nature’s invention. The distant baying of a dog and the voice of children in the streets far below were borne up to his ears ; in fancy he heard behind them the lapping of countless wavelets on the long

An Impostor. 213

lava-stream shore between him and Vesuvius. From the latter the usual column of smoke was rolling out, already tinged by the nightly firelight. Whoever watched Vesuvius and did not think him a live thing, working there night and day at his own mysterious business, careless of men, never for two successive minutes quite the same? Ah ! that little puff of new-born smoke fleeting away to dissipate and die before a moment is past—what does it reveal? What does it mean? And at night when you wake, if you look out of your window, you will see a flame shoot up ; and you know the stars have seen flame after flame already while you slept, and that the monster has taken no rest and will not rest, but labours hour by hour, day and night, ceaselessly on. And yet men live on his slopes, and heed him scarce more than he heeds them ; and little towns are bustling and alive, and men walk their streets and only now and then look up and see the cloud of smoke by day, the pillar of fire by night. Yet is there a dead town there too, an unburied corpse on the hill’s first slope, beyond the plain, away there to the right, led to by that white poplar-shaded road—Pompeii—dead ; long, long dead ; slain by the breathing, living, fiery mountain which has slept never for one single moment since.

Some such thoughts were passing through Stephen Fleming’s mind, for he had a certain interest in Pompeii ; he had read of it in his books, and the stillness of the evening awed him and great Vesuvius. Besides, he was trying not to think of Edith, who seemed to him pure and fair, and as much above him as the one sweet star already showing in the darkened west. He loved her ; he had loved her from the first moment of their meeting ; but she belonged to another world than his, and to bring her down would be no easier than to scale the heavens and attain the star. Was it possible, was it even to be desired, that Edith Gardiner should come down to him into his life? into the society he had frequented? should so much as know the shifts by which he had till to-day fed himself, and found his clothes and his books, and the toys and distractions of an ungenerous existence? But as he lingered there on the terrace, watching Vesuvius, a new thought shot through his mind. He had money ; he was a fugitive from his old haunts ; he was paying hotel bills like a lord and sitting at table with gentlemen and ladies who found no graver fault with his language and his habits than to ask if he were entirely English ; a new self had sprung up within his breast, new ambitions, new possibilities ; might it not be possible—not to bring Edith down—but to raise himself to that purer and higher sphere, that heaven in which she had her conversation ?

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214 The Gentleman's Magazine.

ITI.

Circumstances kept the adventurer and the nursery governess together. The little boy Charley fell into the sea one day, and Stephen Fleming rescued him, thus winning Mrs. Braham’s extrava- gant gratitude. Charley was none the worse for his ducking, but Stephen took cold and was laid up with inflammation of the lungs. Mrs. Braham nursed him like a mother, and the governess and little Janey were as his sisters. How strange it seemed to this pariah to be lying on a wicker sofa on the terrace of a good hotel with a little lady of nine summers’ old fanning him and feeding him with cherries, and prattling to him of her English home. Yet. they were not little Janey’s fingers which crinkled his veins and quickened his breath each time they touched his pillow, or his long thin olive hand, far less capable and active than the soft, smooth one encountering it. Stephen was in paradise, and his heart ached for the white angel at his side, who might he fancied fix him in paradise for ever.

To Mr. Braham he talked about his position. ‘Give me advice as to investments,” he said ; “I have some money—it came to me by a legacy” (here wasa lie); “and can you help me to some steady work? I was ona newspaper once; then I was an agent for Cook in Smyrna, You see I am a linguist; I can get odd jobs easily. But I am sick of knocking about. I want something regular. I should like to settle down.”

“Certainly ! certainly!” said good Mr. Braham. “I will men- tion you to my mercantile friends. I will find you a post, and with private means in addition, and if you can stick at routine work, you ought to do very well. If I were you I should marry. Nothing keeps a fellow so steady as a wife and responsibilities.”

Stephen swung himself off his invalid sofa and started to his feet. **Do you really mean it?” he said, his eyes flashing. But would she marry me? Edith? Marry me?”

Mr. Braham blew a long whistle. Bless me!” he said. Is that the way the wind blows?” He paused, considering what to him was a new idea, though it had certainly crossed Mrs. Braham’s mind more than once. ‘Well, and pray why shouldn’t you marry Edith?” he said at last. Upon my soul, she’s a trump of a girl ; just the sort to make a man comfortable. And when a young woman has done governess, or head nurse rather, for a year or two, she’s ready enough to take a husband, though the man who offers mayn’t have hada lord for his father, nor a lord mayor either.”

It was not exactly the reason which induced Edith Gardiner to

An Impostor. 215

accept the young man, when diffidently, yet with scarce controlled excitement, he made his proposal. But she did accept him.

IV.

Soon after their return to England, while the Brahams and their governess were still staying in London, Stephen was invited to dinner. He went, and found another guest: a relation of Mrs. Braham’s, an insignificant old clergyman, the Rev. Edwin Blake.

Since he had known Edith, Stephen had learned to blush ; he crimsoned on find himself face to face with the curate of St. Chad’s Without.

Mr. Blake started when he saw the lad, and again when he was introduced by the name of Fleming. He marvelled at the improve- ment in the young fellow’s appearance. A momentary suspicion wrestled with his unreasoning affection.

“Why,” he asked, “when I saw you first did you give me a false name?”

“T have no name,” replied Stephen, readily, “I wish to God I had! But for the future I shall keep the one I wear to-day. I have made friends and they call me Fleming!” Then he laughed as if ashamed of his enthusiasm. “The truth is I have had a legacy from a man named Fleming, and he wished me to take his name. When I saw you, sir, Iwas down on my luck, out at elbows, out of work, out of health, My money was gone, pretty nearly my pluck. Now I am on my feet again: my legacy came at the very nick of time.”

The explanation satisfied Mr. Blake: at least for the time. He laid his hand on Stephen’s shoulder. ‘“ But I hope,” he said, that your serious thoughts, my dear lad, have not passed away with your misfortunes ?

“Oh,” said Stephen, his eye resting on Edith, “I am much more serious now.”

The Brahams, finding Mr. Stephen Fleming known to dear Mr. Blake, considered that all possible objection to Edith’s suitor was re- moved. Perhaps they would not have let Janey marry such a person; but Edith was only the governess and the poor relation. For six weeks all was couleur de rose.

Stephen was continually at Durlings, Mr. Braham’s pretty villa at Richmond, and Edith was released from schoolroom duties to be at her lover’s call. The pair rambled together over the hilis, spent

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216 The Gentleman's Magazine.

sunny afternoons on the river, or visited country neighbours, all too new to the vagabond to seem dull. He was enamoured of simpli- city ; and quiet monotony—with Edith—seemed the summum bonum. Before his eyes was now unveiled that home life which had seemed a thing from a fairy tale when Janey had prattled of it beside his sofa in the Pension Schwartz. There was nothing he enjoyed more than afternoon tea in the flower-scented drawing-room at Durlings ; white-robed Edith waiting on everybody, even on Stephen himself. Never did he ask himself if tea might some day taste insipid, if Edith’s angel wings would vanish when she was no longer a marvel and scarce attainable.

Under this sum of happiness Stephen improved visibly. Mrs. Braham said he had grown: he looked people straight in the face ; his manner had gained in dignity ; his vices fell from him as the skin peels off a fever convalescent. To Charley his companionship was harmless ; nor did his old comrades ever see him at this time, for he had stepped into a room of the house of life to which they had no admittance. Only at the end of six weeks Edith Gardiner had made one discovery which troubled her a little—that her future hus- band in small things was quite incapable of speaking the exact truth ; and good Mr. Blake, who had been observing and question- ing Stephen more and more narrowly, not only because he loved him but also for that sweet girl Edith’s sake, had become very uncomfort- able indeed, and refused absolutely to perform the wedding ceremony himself, and was in two minds whether he ought not altogether to hinder the marriage. Of all which doubts Stephen was quite un- conscious. He was in paradise.

¥.

It was the day before the wedding. Stephen was near Charing Cross, meaning to run out to Orpington and take a last look at his cottage, which he had furnished for Edith. He seemed to be step- ping on air, he felt so happy ; and he looked in every respect a gen- tleman, well-dressed, well-spoken, at his ease in mind and body. He was like Jonah’s gourd : pleasant, serviceable, sprung to perfection in a night, and with a constitution of just as little stability. A hand was laid on his arm.

‘Stephen, I have something to say to you. Come with me.” It was Mr. Blake, wearing a face of the deepest concern.

An Impostor. 217

My God !” exclaimed the bridegroom, has anything happened to Edith !”

The curate took him to St. Chad’s, to the vestry, a spot with unpleasant memories for Stephen ; who, as Mr. Blake sighed and delayed his communication, drummed impatiently on the table and wished himself away.

“Stephen,” said the clergyman, rousing himself and speaking sternly, “you have been here before. You came here to me once under an assumed name, with lies on your tongue, I fear with no good purpose in your heart. My dear lad, you are changed since then! I know that. 1 have not brought you here to reproach you for deceiving me. Listen ; I have been away for a fortnight, and I have only just learned that the man Elliott has been arrested, and that he is to-day on his trial for assaulting our verger and robbing God’s holy church.”

“Well!” said Stephen, what have I to do with it?”

“That,” said Mr. Blake, ‘is exactly the question I ask of you.”

The young man was quite aware how an innocent person would at this moment comport himself. But “conscience doth make cowards of us all,” and he was possessed by an insane desire to escape.

“‘ Will the man be convicted?” he asked carelessly, after a step or two towards the door.

“It seems probable ; the verger, half insane since the blow which crippled him for life, and the verger’s granddaughter, a heedless, sensational creature, claim to have recognised him, and there is circumstantial evidence. I think it very likely this innocent man may be condemned.”

‘* How do you know he is innocent?” cried Stephen, inwardly cursing his folly for discussing the matter at all.

The curate held out his hand. “Stephen, I have never felt certain of his innocence till this moment. I ask you, is he not innocent ?

Kindness is occasionally as disabling in its effects as conscience ; at the touch of the good man’s hand Stephen was moved, and he had no reply to make.

“My son,” said the clergyman presently, we must not allow the innocent to suffer for the guilty.”

Stephen started, with overwhelming terror at the folly of his own behaviour.

‘Good heavens!” he exclaimed, turning pale. ‘You are not going to charge me?”

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218 The Gentleman's Magazine.

“No, Iam not,” said the curate. “JZ have no proofs of your crime.”

Because you shan’t !” said Stephen, the forgotten devil in him breaking out. We are alone here, and I guess I could settle you as easily as I settled your ass of a verger.”

“No threats!” said the curate, “I am not afraid of you. I appeal to your new and your better self.”

Stephen dropped his fist sullenly and retreated a few paces.

There was a pause.

“Do you know that I am going to be married to-morrow?” he said at last abruptly, though for some minutes the veins of his forehead had been swelling under the effort to get out the words.

** My poor boy ! I know it.”

** Do you wish to ruin Edith?”

Would Edith marry you if she knew?”

He laughed. ‘No, she would not marry me if she knew ; and that is why, you fool, I will kill you sooner than let you tell her.”

*‘ There will be no upward path for you, Stephen, begun like this. My son, God knows how earnestly I have prayed for you,” said the curate.

For a moment Stephen hesitated, then he forced his way roughly past the old clergyman, who staggered and fell heavily, striking his head against the very chest once rifled by the thief. Stephen was dismayed, for he had not meant to hurt the gentle old man ; but after a minute he laughed wildly and went out, saying to himself :

“Tt will keep him quiet till I have got my Edith.” Then he hurried away.

VI.

He was just in time for his train, and in less than an hour he was at his cottage gathering roses for Edith’s room. His hands twitched, so that the flowers fell from them, and he left them strewn in disorder on the floor. When he brought her home to-morrow she would find destruction not decoration, as if malignant spirits had wrecked the house. He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror and started ; that was the old Stephen of the hideous memories, not Edith’s bridegroom. Mr. Blake’s voice was still ringing in his ears and goading him to fury.

“Would Edith marry you if she knew?”

He trampled on the innocent flowers, and the china bowl he was

An Impostor. 219

carrying for them fell from his hands. He was a madman there in the pretty room, destroying everything. Shocked at himself, he fled.

He was back in London ; at Richmond ; at Durlings.

Edith ! I must speak to Edith!” he cried. ‘I must speak to Edith !”

Hallo ! young man!”said Mr. Braham ; what’s the matter? Edith, like the trump of a girl she is, has taken the brats for a last day's pleasuring. You were to keep out of her sight till to- morrow, eh?”

Stephen explained nothing and hurried back to London, “I must ‘see Edith,” he was still saying to himself. Whither had she taken the children? His brain was becoming confused ; he could only think of the Zoo, and went there to walk hither and thither, looking at nothing and making the people stare. Edith was not to be found, and the hours were wearing on.

“Are you seeking someone, young man?” asked one of the keepers. He did not say “sir”—the false air of gentility which Stephen had worn at breakfast time was gone.

He left the gardens, throwing, as he did so, a stone at a wretched little whipped cur, running away with its tail between its legs ; some- how it reminded him of himself, and he hated it.

Passing through the Regent’s Park he stopped more than once, so giddy that he could scarce keep on his feet. Holding on to the railings he murmured aloud the curate’s words which were still droning in his ears. No upward path for you.”

A policeman eyed him: thinking of him what Eli had thought of the woman with the sorrowful spirit.

** You’d best move on, young chap,” said the policeman, “I know the sort of lot you are.” Stephen slouched off without rejoinder.

In the streets he got on better; the “sort of lot” he had relapsed into has always been common enough in the Strand. He passed Darkneedle Street and St. Chad’s Without. Had the old curate been killed by that fall in the vestry? “Curse him!” muttered Stephen under his breath. He struggled on.

It was four o’clock, the streets gaspingly hot. He reached the Court and elbowed his way in. Aman named Elliott was being tried for sacrilege and assault ; the proceedings were close on termination and with result unfavourable to the defendant. Fora minute, Stephen looked straight before him, with wild eyes staring blindly and white fallen mouth. Then he held out a paper.

Take this to the proper person,” he said. On it he had written, Elliott is innocent. I give myself up. Stephen Turner.”

220 The Gentleman's Magazine.

There was a slight commotion, a policeman vanishing with the paper, while another held the youth tightly by the arm. Presently orders came to take him into custody, the proceedings with regard to Elliott having been adjourned for inquiry.

VII.

All night he sat upright, his eyes on the wall, having spoken no word. His brain was much clouded ; now and then he lost count of where he was and how he came to be there. But at eleven next morning he got a vision so distinct, it seemed clairvoyance, of the little church at Durlings decked for a bridal, Janey the bridesmaid ; Edith Gardiner waiting in her snowy robes ; the bridegroom not there, and no one knowing what had become cf him. That vision remained with him—Edith come to the church in her snowy robes, and no bridegroom there, and no one knowing what had become of him. Towards evening he grew refractory ; but the gaolers knew the “sort of lot” he was, and took their measures accordingly.

When examined, Stephen told the whole story with what seemed impudent glibness. He was not a burglar, certainly not ; not even a thief by profession, but he liked adventures, he was clever at any- thing—oh ! very clever, and he had needed money. He had heard of St. Chad’s rich plate and the heavy chest with the broken lock ; he had reconnoitred the church while attending the service, taking the Sacrament, talking theology with the old curate. He had come when the doors were unlocked and no one was about but the verger. He had been obliged to assault the old fool, because he was going to call the police. He had got the plate away successfully, and had sold it to an obscure Jew in Palermo. From the nest egg thus acquired he had gambled himself into a fortune and a lady’s love. He described everything and gave proofs ; furnished the name of the Palermo Jew, so that the plate was traced and eventually recovered for St. Chad’s Without. There could be no doubt about the story. Jim Elliott was discharged and Stephen Turner was convicted and sentenced. Someone, shocked at his shamelessness, asked him why he had confessed now; and he laughed and replied that it was a pretty tale ; then with a savage look in his eyes and a wicked wish to slander others because he had ruined himself, he added that it was bound to come out, for the parson had turned traitor, and the lady had cast him off, and he wanted to annoy her. But he never mentioned Edith’s name; and, even as he slandered her, his thoughts went back to the white-robed girl at the altar, and to the chestnut

An Impostor. 221

woods at Castellammare ; and to a pretty English cottage which he had tried to decorate with roses for the approaching bride.

He was shut up in a London prison, and seemed likely to be a wayward and ferocious captive; for a week or two doubts were entertained of his sanity. Then he was ordered extra punishment ; his hours on the treadmill were lengthened, they put him in the dark cell on bread and water. But his pulse went down so suddenly that the doctor interfered. ‘These curs have no constitution,” he said ; “there’ll be a row if we kill the fellow.”

Mr. Braham, good honest man, terribly shocked by his protégés imposture, came to visit him. Stephen refused to utter a word. One of his old companions, a prisoner himself, contrived to speak to him in the labour yard, and was terrified by the senseless rage he provoked.

At last sweet Edith herself came.

“The fellow is a ruffian,” said the warder, surveying the gentle girl ; he will insult the lady.”

The narrow room, the bars between her and him, the spectators, the listeners, affected Edith’s weakened nerves; but she bore up against that. Stephen, crouching away from her, his brows drawn down, his eyes wicked, his whole aspect malignant, filled her with fear. She barely recognised her lover.

‘Stephen, you have broken my heart. Will you not say to me that you are sorry? But I am here to tell you I have not forgotten my promise. I have loved you, and I at least am true. It can never be the same; but, God knows, I will do my best. If you wish it, when you leave this dreadful place, Stephen, I will marry you.”

He looked at her : he saw that in her eyes he was now no more than the liar, the impostor, the thief, the dishonourer of holy things, only by accident not a murderer. She believed in him no more; she was not even sure if she loved him still. She had had no ex- planation, poor Edith! There were no explanations possible which could satisfy her.

“Go away,” he answered. “I do mot wish it. Oh,” he went on roughly, “I have been in prison before, twice. You may as well know all now. I shall do well enough. Don’t bother me with pity. Go!”

The ferocity of the last word frightened her, and she gave a cry. In an instant the vigilant warder was assisting the trembling girl to €scape.

“You vile young dog!” said the man, chivalrous and indignant, “to insult a lady like that !”

As he listened to Edith’s retreating footsteps it seemed to

222 The Gentleman's Magazine.

Stephen that his anguish must kill him. But the next day dawned, and the next again, and he still lived on, amenable to no orders, submissive to no punishments, his tongue tied, misery in his heart.

‘‘ My dear sir,” said the governor to Mr. Blake, “I am sorry the fellow won’t see you, but I do assure you it would be useless if he did. He belongs to the worst type, because he is intelligent. No soul: born without one, I suppose. Hereditary, no doubt. A hopeless case.”

“Do me one favour,” said the old curate ; “don’t tell him I am here, but take me where I can speak to him, and leave me as much alone with him as your rules permit.”

“‘ Well—a lady visited him : his Sunday-school teacher or some- thing of that sort. Generally these curs have some respect for a lady, but he frightened her off in five minutes.”

“Take me to him,” repeated Mr. Blake.

Stephen, crouching in his cell, his head on his hand in the atti- tude that had scarcely varied since Edith had fled from him, heard his door unlocked, and he was once more dragged down to the visitors’ bars. It was not Edith ; at least that agony was not to be repeated. But why were people thus brought to torment him? With curses on his lips he raised his head. He saw Mr. Blake. When he met the grieving eyes of the old man who loved him, the wall of ice which had formed round Stephen’s heart gave way. In mind and body he was weakened, and now he wept. Women weep and are comforted ; children sob easily and loud ; but this was the wail of a lost spirit. Never before had the quiet curate seen such tears. They seemed to him fire only and blood. But it was long before Stephen spoke.

“You here?—you who have ruined me? Why did you per- suade me to it? I was happy. I was respectable. I was on the ladder. I had friends. Oh, God! I had Edith! Now I have lost everything. I tell you I have lost everything! I am back in the mire. I shall never be a decent man now. I shall never be anything but the bastard, the outcast, the criminal, the dog. The dog! that’s what they all call me. I am sick of hearing it. And I had,” he repeated, his voice choking, “I had her kiss ; and the little house—the roses—the hope 6

When Edith understands began the curate, but Stephen interrupted.

“She will never understand! Besides, it would make no difference. I am changed. I am not fit to touch her now. I know it. She knows it. She spoke kindly to me—my sweet, sweet Edith ! but she does not love me now. The man she loved is gone,

An Impostor. 223

vanished. She thinks he never existed. He did exist. He was as real as I am real to-day. You have killed him ; and he will never live again ; never.”

“Tt seems hopeless to you now, Stephen. But you tried to do right. Believe me, God saw it, and will not forsake you.”

‘“T have never repented anything,” said Stephen, “‘as I repent fhat.”

Mr. Blake knew not what to say ; spiritual consolation were a mockery ; venom to an open wound. Only love could do anything for the outcast to-day.

His hands were stretched towards the unhappy lad, as towards his son, and even while raving against him, Stephen saw it. After a few moments, the poor eyes lifted a little, and something like a smile flickered on the worn lips.

“Were you hurt that day you fell?” he asked wistfully. “It was my fault.”

A spark had been struck from the frozen heart, and the curate’s eyes spoke forgiveness. ‘I shall win him back,” he thought ; “may God help us both !”

Stephen did quiet down after this, and the prison chaplain and even the governor conceived hopes for him. It was piteous to see the slender fingers which had never done any work in their life, trying to accomplish the daily oakum-picking, to find the nimble brain poring over the chaplain’s tracts, and hoping to find in their simple gospel some message for his thwarted soul.

Whether at the end of his punishment, Stephen would, as Mr. Blake fondly hoped, have resumed the upward path, and with the help of his once active wits and his little income, perhaps with Edith, dear and forgiving at his side ; or whether, as he prophesied himself, he would have left the prison only to sink back into his early degradation,